Palisades Park by Alan BrennertGrowing up in the 1930s, there is no more magical place than Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey—especially for seven-year-old Antoinette, who horrifies her mother by insisting on the unladylike nickname Toni, and her brother, Jack. Toni helps her parents, Eddie and Adele Stopka, at the stand where they sell homemade French fries amid the roar of the Cyclone roller coaster. There is also the lure of the world’s biggest salt-water pool, complete with divers whose astonishing stunts inspire Toni, despite her mothers insistence that girls cant be high divers.
But a family of dreamers doesnt always share the same dreams, and then the world intrudes: Theres the Great Depression, and Pearl Harbor, which hits home in ways that will split the family apart; and perils like fire and race riots in the park. Both Eddie and Jack face the dangers of war, while Adele has ambitions of her own—and Toni is determined to take on a very different kind of danger in impossible feats as a high diver. Yet they are all drawn back to each other—and to Palisades Park—until the park closes forever in 1971.
Evocative and moving, with the trademark brilliance at transforming historical events into irresistible fiction that made Alan Brennert’s Molokai and Honolulu into reading group favorites, Palisades Park takes us back to a time when life seemed simpler—except, of course, it wasnt.
Palisades Amusement Park
The park operated from until , remaining one of the most visited amusement parks in the country until the end of its existence. After the park closed in , a high-rise luxury apartment complex was built on its site. In , before common use of automobiles , the Bergen County Traction Company conceived the park as a trolley park to attract evening and weekend riders. It was originally known as "The Park on the Palisades". Dexter to manage it. Dexter imported a crude assortment of attractions which included a Ferris wheel , a baby parade, and diving horses.
Within two years, the park, which boasted the world's largest saltwater swimming pool and more than rides and attractions, was sold and demolished. Today, although residents of Cliffside Park and Fort Lee recall their former neighbor with nostalgia, their affection is muted. The park, say local historians and officials, is remembered more for its traffic jams and double-parked cars than for its 74 years in the area. Neither community has honored or plans to commemorate the former amusement area. Robert Boylan, a Fort Lee historian, blames town officials for this. Since the demise of the park, he said, no public building, street or plaza has been named in its honor, nor has a gallery been es tablished to exhibit park memorabilia.
"Palisades has the rides, Palisades has the fun. Come—On—Over.”
This post was contributed by a community member. The views expressed here are the author's own. The summer sun has actually peeked through the clouds this week so we can hope, as we progress through the month of June, that we will see more and more summer-like weather, and we can only hope that we also receive cool breezes off the Palisades. Those breezes, if you listen closely enough, whisper in your ear of summers long ago atop the Fort Lee Palisades. Summer in our community, from through , ran from April through September, as those were the opening and closing dates each season for Palisades Amusement Park. This clifftop park has been written about in past archive columns but this column serves Palisades Amusement Park straight up, if you please, with a twist. Palisades Amusement Park, author and documentary filmmaker, Vince Gargiulo, called me recently, and there was a definite urgency in his voice.
Cyclone roller coaster at Palisades Amusement Park. Photo courtesy of the Fort Lee Historical Society. And while the park closed in , recently unearthed footage of the park has brought it back to life. The above clip, which runs nearly eight minutes, is from May 14, , and depicts New Jerseyans -- men in suits, ties and hats and women in dresses -- walking around the park, carnival barkers wooing park-goers, along with roller coasters and other rides. Guy Jones, who has posted dozens of historical clips to YouTube, put the video up on August 23 and it already has more than 14, views. It may be in black and white, but the video is clear and high quality, with the sound being especially crisp and bringing you right into the park to hear the people screaming on the roller coasters and the old school organ playing classic carnival music.
Three bulldozers revved up on a snow-covered field alongside the Cyclone, the legendary ride that for 40 years had been of the main attractions of Palisades Amusement Park. Standing nearby was a man in a long tan trench coat and a hard hat. His late father Joseph had held the job before him. In an odd twist of fate, John Rinaldi had been hired by the construction company that had the contract to tear down the cyclone. The park — which was still attracting more than 6 million visitors each summer — fell victim to real estate value and changes to local zoning laws. He promised the public one last grand summer.